Title: Practice

Summary: A last good time together

Warnings: none

Spoilers: Lover's Walk


Practice

Cordelia, seeing Xander's hopeful puppy-dog look, sighed, rolled her eyes, and reluctantly agreed to the plan. "We bowl."

Willow had unconsciously been ready to wince in anticipation of a most certain and searing put-down. She felt all her tension ease upon Cordelia's announcement and brightened immediately. "Great! Double bowling date!" Willow beamed prettily at everyone and quickly made it known where her loyalties lay. "I'm on Oz's team," she proudly declared.

Great, thought Cordelia, double bowling date with freakazoids. Just how far can I fall?

It seemed a question she constantly asked herself ever since she had begun dating the lovable loser. It always amazed her what she was willing to put up with for Xander and his friends. Okay, so just because the last year had been one of the happiest of her life--excepting, of course, all the death, mayhem and destruction she kept getting mired in--that didn't mean she had to like it, did it? But try as she might she couldn't recall a time when she'd been as carefree and happy.

"Yeah?" Xander challenged Willow, "Well, prepare to be crushed!" Xander smirked confidently, then glanced at Cordelia and seemed to reconsider. He turned to her and lightly laid his hand on her arm to get her attention. "Maybe we should practice?"

A wonderful tingle spread from where he'd touched her with his simple caress. Seeing his pleased and adorably earnest expression, Cordelia knew the answer to her question.

Even if it meant bowling.

"Yeah," she agreed.

---

Cordelia had thought she was prepared for the worst, but she was still shaken by the reality. The cacophony of crashing pins mixed discordantly with the thumps and deep rumble of heavy balls rolling over hardwood; screeches of running kids competed with the yells of their parents for top honors in excruciatingly annoying noises. Cordelia closed her eyes and tried breathing through her mouth in a vain effort to block out the lurid fluorescent lighting and miasma of cigarette smoke that had absorbed into the furniture. Sticky spots from the dried-up soda and beer spill plucked at her feet everywhere she stepped.

What has Xander gotten me into? Nothing could be as bad as this! All in all, Cordelia thought, running from a vampire in a dark and dank cemetery would be a vast improvement to her life. She felt quite certain of that fact.

Cordelia kept her eyes closed and tried not to move but Xander's grip was firm as he dragged her over to the counter. Cordelia winced visibly when she accidentally opened her eyes and saw the travesty before her.

It was truly Hell on Earth as far as she was concerned.

"Xander, I agreed to bowl." Cordelia shuddered again as the B-word passed through perfectly glossed lips, mildly surprised that glowing green Am-Ex demons weren't already trying to take away her most precious possession. "I even agreed to a double date because I'm pretty sure nobody I know will ever see me here. But," she informed Xander as she waved at the shelves of creased, faded and dingy, red-white-and-blue slick-soled shoes, "I will NOT wear those!" She cringed every time she got even a glimpse of the heinous insults to fashionable footwear. "I might be dating you, but I still have some standards!"

Xander looked at her sideways as he told the boy he wanted size elevens. "I'll be sure to visit you every day in the hospital."

"Come again?"

Xander took the offered shoes and turned to face her. "If you don't wear these, and you try and bowl with what you're wearing," he said, pointing to her stylish mid-heeled pumps, "you're going trip, fall and hurt yourself really, really bad." He moved up beside her and put his arm around her shoulders and gave a light encouraging squeeze. "Besides," Xander cajoled, "if anyone can, you of all people can make those look good."

She still wasn't swayed.

"I'll put them on for you; you won't even have to touch them."

Seeing she was almost on the verge of making the leap from the precipice, Xander decided now was the time to unleash the big guns. "If you do this," he told her, steeling himself, "then..." He swallowed hard. "Then next weekend I'll...I'll go with you to..." Xander closed his eyes, "...Bloomingdales."

Cordelia squealed before she even realized what she was doing. She was quite taken aback and her eyes widened perceptibly at Xander's proposition. Reconsidering, she looked again at the hell-spawned shoe-things. She looked at the imploring eyes of her boyfriend.

She looked for an escape route.

She saw none.

He really is a pretty good boyfriend, Cordelia rationalized. And sacrifice is part a relationship, right? She took another careful scan around to verify that indeed nobody she knew was anywhere in sight, and finally relented.

"Size seven, please."

---

Cordelia glared at the group of small kids a few lanes over from theirs. "How come they get the bumpers in the gutter and we don't? That's not fair at all."

Xander was busy examining a ball to see if the finger holes would fit him, and didn't bother to look up when he answered. "'Cause we're more than three times their age?" He shrugged in response to her glare. "Just sayin'"

"Humph." She turned to survey the array of balls Xander was standing in front of. "Which one is mine?"

"Here, let me see your wrist." Cordelia held up her arm and he gently gripped her hand. "Try and keep your wrist straight," he instructed as he began to bend her hand back against her resistance. "Twelve pounder, I think." Xander turned to the rack and started spinning the balls around and checked the weights. "This one," he finally announced, holding up a day-glo Pepto-Bismol pink ball.

Cordelia made a gagging noise and felt like she wanted to retch. "You're killing me, Harris! First the shoes, now this? Why don't you just shoot me now and put me out of my misery?"

Xander shrugged. "Cause I like you? Strange as that may be."

She pouted and pointed at a beautiful chartreuse ball. "What's wrong with that one?"

Xander glanced at the ball. "Sixteen pounds. You're not strong enough for it."

---

"No, no, no. Like this." Xander stepped up behind Cordelia and gently tilted her shoulders to the right, pulling her arm down straight. "Let the ball drop and then swing freely, back and then forward," He put a hand on her hips to push them slightly to the left. "And, uh, keep your hips out of the way."

With one hand on her hips, the other entwined along her arm, he was indeed very close and tight behind Cordelia, virtually spooning with her. Surrounded by her warmth, he felt the softness of her body and inhaled the faint and wonderful smell of her perfume. It was heady stuff and he was finding it difficult to think clearly, or even at all.

Cordelia was very aware of Xander's predicament, grinned wickedly and playfully teased him. She leaned back slightly, pushed her butt out and wriggled slightly, driving him crazy, smirking as she saw his eyes roll back. Laughing aloud she reached over her shoulder and lightly drew her finger under his chin before stepping away. "Are you watching my back now, Xander?"

Xander bobble-headed his answer. "Uh huh."

---

Cordelia watched as Xander took his first turn, deftly sending the ball along the side of the lane. She goggled when he started to jump and spastically wave and contort his body as he tried to remote-control the break of the ball. Cordelia let her head fall, her forehead smacking into the palm of her hand, and shook it in dismay, looking through her fingers to see if anyone else had witnessed this embarrassment. How in the world could she be in love with this dork? she wondered.

Finally, after kicking out his leg and pulling on an imaginary truck horn, Xander watched as his ball broke just the way he wanted. The ball plowed between the one and two pins, scattering everything in its path, making pins fly and bounce and knock down all the rest in a conflagration of laminated maple and plastic. He let out a war whoop and pumped his arm rapidly.

Strutting back to the score table Xander's grin grew as he saw Cordelia desperately trying to hide her face. "Hey, don't I get a congratulatory kiss for my strike?"

"No!" she snapped. "Spastic lame-tards get nothing! Anyway, isn't a strike a bad thing?"

He plopped down in the seat next to her. "That's baseball. And felonies. In bowling it's a very good thing. And if you get three in a row you get a turkey!"

"A turkey?"

Xander nodded.

"Why not a chicken or a pencil sharpener?"

"Then it wouldn't be bowling," Xander answered solemnly.

She sighed and looked heavenward. "Is Bloomingdale's really worth all this?" she muttered.

Xander gave her a quick peck on the cheek and said, "Your turn."

Time to suck it up, girl, she angrily told herself. This was a test, a test of faith, and she was nothing if not up to a challenge. She grabbed her ball and stepped back, pausing to remember all the hints Xander had given her. Even at something as stupid and pointless as this she was determined to be as perfect as she could because she was Cordelia, dammit! Queen C!

And Queen C never did anything in half-measures.

Cordelia stepped forward and let her arm drop and swing back. She swung the ball forward, twisting herself like Xander had shown her, and released the pink monstrosity, unable to prevent a soft unlady-like grunt from escaping.

Cordelia watched briefly as the ball started to veer off slightly, and she was dismayed. She refused to watch herself fail, and started walking back to the table to sit, sulk, and berate Xander and his dumb-ass lamebrain ideas. She saw Xander jump up and begin waving frantically at the same moment she heard the crashing of major pin-action behind her. Cordelia turned just in time to see the last pin wobble and fall over.

"Strike! A Strike! You got a strike!" Xander yelled from behind her.

Had she even wanted to she still couldn't have stopped the huge, brilliant smile that emerged on her face, nor the giddy childlike delight sweeping through her. I got a strike! I got a strike! The next thing she knew Xander was setting her back down on her feet after he'd caught her mid-jump for joy.

Feeling exhilarated, Cordelia did a little impromptu jig as she went back to the scorer's table with Xander. "I am a natural!" she sung out.

Watching his girlfriend's carefree expression of joy, Xander got that blissful intoxicated feeling again. He couldn't imagine it feeling any better than this and he understood this was too good to lose. He truly understood that now, and whatever insanity had possessed him to make out with Willow ended now, he told himself.

"Yes, you are!" Xander hugged Cordelia one more time and then sat down to tally her score.

"So how many points do I get?"

He pointed at the score sheet where he marked a neat "X" in a little box. "Well, in this frame you get ten points, plus whatever you get on your next two throws."

"Huh?"

"Let's say you get an eight and then pick up the spare in the next frame. So that means the next two throws give you a total of ten. You add that ten to the ten from the strike in this frame and that gives you twenty for the first frame. And in the frame with the spare you get the ten from the spare, plus whatever you get on the next throw in the third frame. You would have at least thirty or more points after just two frames. See? Easy."

Her look of intense confusion did not lessen. To Cordelia he might as well have grown three heads and been speaking in tongues. "What kind of brain-damage thinks of a system that stupid?"

"Really, it's easy. Look, you just--"

She closed her eyes and put up her hand. "Stop right there! I don't want to hear anymore, it might be contagious. Xander, how can you be so impaired at something as simple as algebra, but you think this voodoo math is easy?"

Xander glanced down at the score sheet and the mark for Cordelia's strike, scratching his head. "I dunno, it just is." He shrugged and glanced back up at her. "How about if I keep score?"

---

Cordelia rolled another strike and was just as excited and happy as the first time. She confidently sauntered back to the table, swishing her hips. "What's the final score?"

Xander hemmed and hawed. "Ah, well...you know the score doesn't really matter, right? It's just practice and--"

"What's the final score, Xander?" Cordelia demanded.

"One-eighty-seven to one-seventy-nine."

Cordelia arched an eyebrow and looked at Xander.

"You won," Xander finally admitted with ill grace, frowning and tossing the pencil at the table. He sat back and looked rather dejected.

Cordelia smiled indulgently at his little tantrum. "As the winner I should get what I want..."

Xander looked up in time to see her smile, just before being kissed full on the lips. They eventually broke apart after several long heavenly moments and Xander's grin matched hers.

"And suddenly I'm thinking losing is not such a bad thing after all."

---

They exited the noisy lanes into the relatively quiet street, blinking rapidly in the early evening sun slanting down between buildings. Xander took Cordelia's hand, startling her a bit.

"Thank you, Cordy."

"Actually, thank you, Xander. I had a really good time." She leaned over and quickly brushed her lips against his cheek, giving him a small impish smile as she pulled back. "You ever tell anybody I said that about bowling and you couldn't live long enough to suffer all the pain I'll want to inflict."

Xander grinned broadly, feeling on top of the world. "Mum's the word." He paused before stepping off the curb. "But y'know what, Cordy?"

"What?"

"You looked really hot in those shoes."

fin